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The Economics of International Wage Differentials and Migration  

Lant Pritchett and Farah Hani

The key question for the economics of international migration is whether observed real wage differentials across countries for workers with identical intrinsic productivity represent an economic inefficiency sustained by legal barriers to labor mobility between geographies. A simple comparison of the real wages of workers with the same level of formal schooling or performing similar occupations across countries shows massive gaps between rich and poorer countries. These gaps persist after adjusting for observed and unobserved human capital characteristics, suggesting a “place premium”—or space-specific wage differentials that are not due to intrinsic worker productivity but rather are due to a misallocation of labor. If wage gaps are not due to intrinsic worker productivity, then the incentive for workers to move to richer countries is high. The idea of a place premium is corroborated by macroeconomic evidence. National accounts data show large cross-country output per worker differences, driven by the divergence of total factor productivity. The lack of convergence in total factor productivity and corresponding spatial productivity differentials create differences in the marginal product of factors, and hence persistent gaps in the wages of equal productivity workers. These differentials can equalize with factor flows; however their persistence and large magnitude in the case of labor, suggest legal barriers to migration restricting labor flows are in fact constraining significant return on human capital, and leaving billions in unrealized gains to the world’s workers and global economy. A relaxation of these barriers would generate worker welfare gains that dwarf gold-standard poverty reduction programs.


Trade Liberalization and Informal Labor Markets  

Lourenço S. Paz and Jennifer P. Poole

In recent decades, economic reforms and technological advances have profoundly altered the way employers do business—for instance, the nature of employment relationships, the skills firms demand, and the goods and services they produce and export. In many developing economies, these changes took place concurrently with a substantive rise in work outside of the formal economy. According to International Labour Organization estimates, informal employment can be as high as 88% of total employment in India, almost 50% in Brazil, and around 35% of employment in South Africa. Such informal employment is typically associated with lower wages, lower productivity, poorer working conditions, weaker employment protections, and fewer job benefits and amenities, and these informal workers are often poorer and more vulnerable than their counterparts in the formalized economy. Informal jobs are a consequence of labor market policies—like severance payments or social security contributions—that make the noncompliant informal job cheaper for the employer than a compliant formal job. Each model has a different benefit (or lack of punishment) for employing formal workers, and a distinct mechanism through which international trade shocks alter the benefit-cost of these types of jobs, which in turn results in a change in the informality share. The empirical literature concerning international trade and formality largely points to an unambiguous increase in informal employment in the aftermath of increased import competition. Interestingly, increased access to foreign markets, via liberalization of major trading partners, offers strongly positive implications for formal employment opportunities, decreasing informality. Such effects are moderated by the de facto enforcement of labor regulations. Expansions toward the formal economy and away from informal wage employment in the aftermath of increased access to foreign markets are smaller in strictly enforced areas of the country.


Knowledge Spillovers, Trade, and Foreign Direct Investment  

Wolfgang Keller

This article explores knowledge spillovers, positive externalities that augment the information set of an economic agent, and reviews the evidence on such spillovers in the context of international economic transactions. The entry discusses trade channels of knowledge transfer associated with purchases from abroad (imports) and sales to abroad (exports). Another focus is on the foreign direct investment (FDI) channel through purchases from abroad (inward FDI) and sales to abroad (outward FDI). The entry also distinguishes knowledge flows from foreign to domestic agents and from domestic to foreign agents. The entry underlines the importance of empirical methodology and data characteristics that determine the quality of econometric identification. Even though spillovers are by their very nature—as externalities—difficult to identify, over recent decades a number of advances have produced robust evidence that both trade and foreign direct investment lead to sizable knowledge spillovers. These advances have been both conceptual as well as in the areas of empirical methodology and new data.


A Review of the Effects of Pay Transparency  

Emma Duchini, Stefania Simion, and Arthur Turrell

An increasing number of countries have introduced pay transparency policies with the aim of reducing gender inequality in the labor market. Firms subject to transparency requirements must disclose publicly or to employees’ representatives information on their employees’ pay broken down by gender, or indicators of gender gaps in pay and career outcomes. The argument at the base of these policies is that gender inequality may in part persist because it is hidden. On the one hand, employers rarely keep track of employees’ pay and career progression by gender, and, on the other hand, employees rarely engage in conversations with their colleagues about pay. The lack of information on within-firm disparities by gender may therefore hamper progress toward a more egalitarian labor market. Transparency policies have the potential to improve women’s relative pay and career outcomes for two reasons. First, by increasing the salience of gender gaps in the labor market, they can alter the relative bargaining power of male and female employees vis-à-vis the firm and lead lower-paid individuals to demand higher pay from their employer. Second, together with pressures from employees, the public availability of information on firms’ gender-equality performance may also increase public pressure for firms’ action in this domain. A clear message emerges from the literature analyzing the impact of pay transparency policies on gender inequality: these policies are effective at pushing firms to reduce their gender pay gaps, although this is achieved via a slowdown of men’s wage growth. Related results point to a reduction in labor productivity following the introduction of transparency mandates but no detrimental effect on firms’ profits because this effect is compensated by the reduction in labor costs. Overall, the findings in this literature suggest that transparency policies can reduce the gender pay gap with limited costs for firms but may not be suited to achieve the objective of improving outcomes for lower-paid employees.